Although federal homesteading programs ended in the 1970s, 21st century pioneers can still get free land in states like Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. The state and local programs were initiated in an attempt to halt and hopefully reverse the depopulation of small towns in the Great Plains and northern Midwest. If you think you would be comfortable living in a small town, and you have a business that is portable, you telecommute, or you are financially independent, these opportunities may be a great way to lower your cost of living. Even if you are looking to start a new business, you may be able to get better incentives in one of the towns giving away free land.
Visit the Free Land and Other Rural Opportunities web site, which provides information and links to programs in multiple states, or visit one of the state web sites. See the Resources section below.
Assess whether or not it's right for you and your family, if you have one. Once you have completed the steps below you should have a good idea of how well it will work for you.
Find out how much time you will have to build a home. Most communities require you to build within 1-2 years. Some may allow up to 5 years. Also find out of there is a penalty for changing your mind and deciding not to build. Some programs will require you to demonstrate the financial readiness to build within their specified time frame. Find out the minimum size of the house you will have to build and decide if you will be able to build it within that time frame.
Make sure you are comfortable with the residency requirements. Find out the length of time you will be required to live in home as a primary residence. It will be at least a year, but may be 20 years or more.
Look for the hidden costs. Will there be special assessments for water, electricity, roads, etc.? This is likely if it is a new development. Will the property tax assessments be waived?
Will the size of the lot be large enough for your needs, and if not, can you get an adjoining lot?
Find out of there are other incentives offered by the town, such as money towards the down payment on your house, or a welcome package with free club memberships and gift certificates redeemable at local businesses. Are there incentives for business owners or entrepreneurs looking to start new businesses? There may be tax incentives, special loans or other financial assistance available.
Consider whether you will you be comfortable living in the new town. The towns offering such programs are usually small towns with a fairly homogeneous population.
Determine if moving to the town is compatible with your employment. Do you have a portable business, or a business that is not location dependent, or are you financially independent? If you are considering looking for a job in your new town, keep in mind that jobs may be scarce and wages are likely to be among the lowest in the country. On the other hand, if your business requires a lot of office or warehouse space, it may be much cheaper to rent in one of these small towns. At least one town (Marquette, Kansas) is considering giving away commercial land as well as residential land.
Fill out the land request and sign the developer's agreement. It's usually a very fast and simple process.